Today I left Tokyo behind and travelled to Kanazawa. But before leaving, I had to stuff everything back into my suitcase and check out. My suitcase seemed a lot more full although I didn't think I'd purchased that many more things – certainly nothing large. Nevertheless it was a struggle but I got there in the end. So I checked out of my hotel and wandered on down to the Asakusa subway station, suitcase feeling heavy on my arm and back aching a little from my rucksack packed with more than the average day out. But I was safe in the knowledge that I'd left more than an hour spare to get to Ueno, work out where I needed to go to get the shinkansen (bullet train) and grab some breakfast.
I got to Ueno before 9am and my reserved train ticket was for 10.22am, so plenty of time! I took this opportunity to activate my Japan Rail Pass that I'd be using for the second week of my trip. You can only exchange it at big train stations and Kanazawa was to be the last point to do this – although I didn't need to use the Japan Rail Pass until Matsumoto. After the ticket exchange and receiving my actual JRP I looked for breakfast and found it in another Starbucks. Although my blueberry muffin wasn't shaped like a muffin at all, it did sooth my grumbling stomach and the medium black coffee was more than welcome. I couldn't actually find the wifi access point in this Starbucks though so was lacking Internet to pass the time. I found the platform for my shinkansen, after buying a few things for lunch in a small train station supermarket – triangle of rice wrapped in nori, a pot of citrus fruit and some kind of cake/pastry.
Japanese train stations are so organised that you know where to stand for each carriage. I was in ‘car’ 4 which was easy enough to find, when the train arrived it was a double-decker bullet train! I was on the top floor, window seat. And a window seat meant that I took a lot of blurry out-of-the-window photography. It was also my first experience of Japanese train travel other than the train from the airport, so I think it was understandable that I was excited by the scenes outside.
As we got closer to Echigo-Yuzawa, where I was to change trains, mountains became more visible on the horizon.
This part of the journey was only just over an hour and I got off at Echigo-Yuzawa where I had to change to a standard train. Echigo-Yuzawa is in the mountains and there was quite a bit of snow around! Of course I took some more blurry photos out of the window – this first picture is out of the train station window as I was crossing platforms though, so shouldn't be blurry!
The journey to Kanazawa was longer – 2hrs 40mins – and on a single-story train. But this train was less busy and with far prettier views outside. Pine trees, snow-capped hills and mountains and a wide assortment of houses, buildings and roads dotted in between.
My lunch. The cake was actually stuffed full of sweet red bean paste – something the Japanese use in a lot of sweets and cakes, it ends up tasting similar to chocolate.
We even went along the north western coast of Japan for a little while – so I saw the sea! And I love the sea, so this was very exciting. I crossed the train and sat on the opposite side of the carriage to take these photos. The train was pretty empty anyway.
This was another train that I just had to photograph as soon as I got off mine at Kanazawa. Cute Japanese things!
When I arrived in Kanazawa I went straight to the tourist information place in the station and picked up some maps and leaflets. I took a bus from outside the station to my hotel – a big 11 floor hotel!
After checking in and unpacking some of my things in my room – smaller than the room in Tokyo – I went out to wander the temple district across the river.
I photographed this pedestrian crossing light purely because he's wearing a hat, much like some old crossings and signs in Europe – but not Britain, as far as I'm aware. I appreciated the little guy anyway.
There are many, many small temples tucked away in side streets and next to normal homes and restaurants in Kanazawa. I have no doubt that would have been a great deal that I didn't see.
I grew to love these sort of demon statue creatures in my time in Japan. They are called onigawara and are comparable to our gargoyles on cathedrals in the UK (well, and other countries). I love gargoyles, so that probably explains why I loved these too.
I saw so many crows in Japan.
I saw the so-called ninja temple (below) although it just looked like any other temple outside. I think it's the insides that are special! Of course, it was late in the afternoon by the time I got there so it wasn't open anymore.
A kitsune (fox) – one of the few non-conversational words I know in Japanese.
Blossom is pretty but it sure makes a mess of the ground!
Leaving the temples, I walked along the river, across a bridge and back along the other side.
Spotted a little Totoro hiding here.
For dinner I picked any-old restaurant at random, near-ish to my hotel. Most looked a bit tacky and/or dodgy – at least to my graphic designer's eyes! But the one I chose was fine although I was really starting to realise that not understanding Japanese when you're on your own is unfortunate. And not being able to speak much more than ‘hello’, ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ is kind of shameful. However, I got by just fine with pointing, nodding and smiling. Picture-based menus are great too… although not so much when you don't eat meat and it is difficult to actually work out what's in the picture. I ended up with a noodle and vegetable based soup again but it was really tasty and had some exotic mushrooms in it too.
Oh, and they left an origami crane for me in my hotel room. Sweet.